A Simple Offering 60 Years kiwiconnexion practical theology
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David: Welcome along everyone to Live On Air
this evening. It’s with a lot of pleasure that I’ve got with me Professor Peter Lineham
who will be well known to many people in New Zealand; a historian of Religion, a commentator
on social affairs, and generally just so knowledgeable on all things Christian. It’s wonderful to
be in Peter’s office; a glorious working office for a Professor of History. Alongside of him
we have the Reverend Ian Faulkner who’s currently the superintendent at East Coast Bays Methodist
Parish, who also qualified in history many decades ago with a masters thesis on [0:43].
So, welcome both today, and what we’re going to discuss the decades from the 50s through
to the current period very briefly, and talking about how that’s effected church life, in
particular for the Trinity at Waiake Methodist church here in East Coast Bays. We’re trying
to locate ourselves into a wider social context. So, Peter I’m going to kick off with a really
difficult question. In the 1950s all these churches were built in the East Coast Bays
– for Methodists that is, primarily by Winston family bricks and mortar. I mean that literally;
the Winston family donated materials, but they had an objective. In the background they
believed that they were building a [1:38] against communism; how does that sit with
you? Peter: I think it’s very significant to interpret
the 1950s in the wave of religion in New Zealand as in America, as part of the Cold War. I
think it’s very obvious that there was deep concern after World War II, Churchill’s favourite
speech on the Iron Curtain descending on Europe, was felt in New Zealand. Some of the responses
to, for example the waterfront strike of 1951, led to a lot of nervousness, that in fact
there were threats to New Zealand. Of course, it was an economic threat, because economically
New Zealand was experiencing the huge wool boom that brought great prosperity to the
country, but utterly depended on the ports carrying the wool out.
So, there was a great deal of nervousness about communist influences, which were real
communist influences from British watersiders who had come to New Zealand; Toby Hill and
the like were demanding that the watersiders receive a greater share of the profit that
everybody was experiencing. So, in lots of ways, though we’d tended to play down the
Cold War as an influence, I think it’s a real influence, and as in America where it led
to the rise of a new religiosity – In God We Trust, was the motto only put on the coins
in the 1950s remember. David: I didn’t realise that.
Peter: Yes, that’s right. They specifically – it would have been unthinkable before that
– it became part of Billy Graham, and with a huge surge of the evangelical churches,
and there’s a little bit of reflection of that in what happened in New Zealand.
David: Is there any parallel – this may be drawing a very low bow, but is there any parallel
to that in the kind of threat that New Zealand felt in the previous century towards the latter
stages of the 1800s – they felt a threat from China; is it parallel in any way?
Peter: Well, I do think eternal threats have surprising cultural implications, so I suppose
that’s the case, but I mean in the late 19th Century there was as much a threat from Russia,
that they were really – all those extraordinary attempts that were made to defend Auckland
by putting in of – what were they called? The tunnels that were put in to originally
fortify Mt Victoria were all in response to the Russian threat. So there was quite a lot
of nervousness, and I mean small culture – a small island with a modest European population
is bound to easily feel threats from overseas. The Chinese threat and the Indian threat is
more in the 1920s after World War I when there’s a rush of fear that migrants are coming, especially
from India and have to be kept out, because otherwise the Pakeha paradise might be destroyed.
David: Does that have an immediate effect, even through to the �50s, �60s, and �70s
in an electorate like East Coast Bays? Peter: Well, East Coast Bays in the 1920s
was this enormous growth of population on the North Shore, which in the end necessitated
the building of the Harbour Bridge, which had been in planning for some time, and dreamed
about and was finally completed in 1959. Up to that stage, a lot of people had travelled
by ferry, and the ferry’s left from the Bays and from Takapuna and so on and so forth.
Those houses; if you look at them now, they might look old and solid, but they were very
new in that period. Ian, do you recall; were you an Aucklander at that stage?
Ian: No. Peter: You would agree with me, that the housing
is all very much of the �50s? Ian: Yes. It’s clearly
a new wave of settlement in comparison with other parts of Auckland and other places.
Peter: I think what happened was that there was a very – this was the age of the classless
society. This was the age when everybody after the war ought to be able to buy their own
house, to capitalise the Family Benefit and to gain a little bit of security. So suburbs
grew up in areas, and see the North Shore had only very small sets of population in
Devonport, Birkenhead and Takapuna. Those were really the only three places, and then
the rest was semi-country areas and a lot of farms mixed in with beach housing along
the coastal side up, especially Browns Bay. So, quite suddenly, new suburbs immerged,
and the belief is that the children especially have got to be reached by the church or it
will become a Godless society. David: That’s a very interesting term of phrase,
isn’t it; a Godless society. Peter: Mm-hm.
David: Ian, we were thinking just before we came about how all of this might somehow be
expressed in songs of the period. If we move from the late �50s to the early �60s we’re
suddenly in a – there’s a very marked change, isn’t there? We’re at the start of Beatlemania,
compared to the greyness of the decade of the 1950s immediately post-war; what are some
of the musicians that you think were influential at that time?
Ian: Oh, clearly in my late teens there were groups like Peter, Paul and Mary – Joan Baez
– The Seekers; all groups with a very strong social message in the songs that they were
singing. It made you feel good to be involved in that sort of atmosphere.
Peter: It really was a generation for teenagers, wasn’t it; if you look across the Shore you’ve
got a series of new schools; Rangitoto, Birkenhead College – there must be other colleges, all
up and down the Shore, but those are the two I know, because my two elderly spinster aunts
were both headmistresses of those schools. Those schools had grown from nothing. They
were brand new schools packed with kids. David: Yeah, I think ’59 for Rangitoto College
and a few years later for what was then Birkdale College.
Peter: That’s right – there rests a controversy doesn’t it, about the name of that school.
David: Yes. So, you’ve got a whole new wave of music breaking through; this is the period
of the protest song. Ian: Oh yes. Well, when we go a bit further
on; Vietnam War and the definite songs of protest that came at that time.
David: How did this effect you, Peter? You were growing up well away from the Auckland
centre. Peter: Well, yes. I grew up in Karamea and
we didn’t exactly have a wave of protest in Karamea I’d have to say, but then in 1965
at the beginning of my secondary school, I went to another of those new schools; Burnside
High School in Christchurch, which became an enormous school, but at that stage had
begun as one of these Nelson-planned schools that were erected right throughout New Zealand
in the 1950s – well, �60s it would be I think. Yeah, I don’t know about protest; actually
David, I think I’d describe as more sort of self-consciousness; people had become – teenagers
were articulating things for themselves, and schools were beginning to encourage kids to
speak up for themselves. I do recall walking in the last Vietnam protest in my first year
at university in 1970. Were they big protests? That one was, but New Zealand was very little-involved
in the Vietnam War. Ian: Oh, I remember what was the Intercontinental
Hotel being mobbed by protestors at a time the US Vice President came.
Peter: Spiro Agnew. Ian: Yes. As universities we were incensed
that his security guards were allowed to be armed, and the New Zealand Police at that
stage were not. So, there were a whole range of strands of objection – not only to what
was happening in Vietnam but what that meant when it arrived in New Zealand.
David: Yes, I think at Auckland University they really were quite conscious protects
from within the Student Association. Ian: Yes.
David: Both of you were church-goers, albeit in different denominations. At the same time
you’ve got all of this emergent protest movement. You’ve got songs singing about it. It’s in
this decade that you’re also starting to see the Death of God theology appear; how did
that impact? Ian: It certainly didn’t impact on me, because
the fellowship that I was associated with was very strong, very youthful, and there
was significant leaders who ensured not only that we kept on the straight and narrow, but
that we were involved in outreach activities. Peter: I remember – I think there were sharper
divides in churches from the mid 1960s probably, but I seem to recall going to university at
the very beginning of what was called The Jesus Movement, and Marcus Arden, this remarkable
converted Jew running The Love Shop in Christchurch where everything was free. People could receive
what they needed just by smiling and asking for it. Some colourful characters, some of
whom have gone onto very strange careers subsequently, but really making quite a mark around the
campus, and me encountering a more informal kind of Christianity, than the very strict
types of faith that I’d grown up with. David: Do either of you feel in retrospect
that the churches understood the stirrings of new theologies emerging? This is the period
when they’re emerging; did the churches respond positively? Any comments, particularly in
regards to the North Shore? Peter: Well, in the North Shore – if you looked
at the Waiake Church and the Winstone’s plaque at the bottom of the church, placed into it,
and the whole building; you can see that in the �50s those churches are so solid and
traditional in a way – well-built, but no concept of other than that, they’re going
to operate as a very conventional form of Christianity. Then in the �60s you can see
that it’s no longer quite as simple and straight-forward as that, I think.
For a start, there’s a lot of shifting of churches that goes on, especially young people
who move out. There’s shape debates about especially Lloyd Geering’s theology. That’s
I think the version that touches New Zealand, certainly in 1967; the heresy trail was held
at St Paul’s in Christchurch, and as a school boy I remember watching, and I think it was
broadcast live. I certainly read the full text of it in the press the next morning.
So I think that as enormous controversy generated, and that’s about a close – although, the Time
Magazine cover with the Death of God was I think very widely read in New Zealand.
David: I think the Geering controversy catapulted New Zealand Presbyterianism to a worldwide
stage, or a few years after it anyway, and I guess the more liberally in the theological
spectrum, would have rung its hands in disbelief, that in the 20th Century someone could be
put on trial for these apparently heretical notions. Interestingly enough, East Coast
Bays had direct influence here, because one of the protagonists in that debate that brought
the charges against Geering, Reverend Arthur Gunn became a member at the Rothesay Bay Methodist
Church, and during my first years of ministry in East Coast Bays, Arthur used to regularly
come to church, and I had no idea of his role in that controversy.
I once wrote an article on the virgin birth pretty well saying that standard thing that
any aspiring minister would say, and at the end of the service Arthur very politely shook
my hand, and handed the bulletin back to me. It was a deeply disturbing thing for me to
feel that foundational Christianity was being attacked. Whereas, I think for perhaps the
majority of Presbyterians and Methodists at the time, that theological liberalism was
a breath of fresh air. Peter: It would have been a little bit familiar,
I would have thought, from some of the teaching at Trinity?
David: Well, I think that this is where you get the gap between the pulpit and the pew;
it was probably far more familiar to people – theological controversies like that were
far more familiar to the average Methodist at the end of the 1800s where you had similar
– C H Garland is the classic case in point. So, what is passed on from generation to generation
of the professional clergy – the Presbyters in our case, is not necessarily passed on
[17:22]. Peter: Very different yes.
David: Any comment on that, Ian? Ian: I’m just struggling to put myself in
that timeframe. I think I was fortunate in that my Methodism at that stage was based
around Mt Eden, and there was quite a liberal educated university-trained ministry happening
at the time, and discussion about such matters was encouraged rather than discouraged. So,
as young folk we were able to engage in some form of conversation with our Bible class
leaders and with the minister himself around such things. Our thinking was not suppressed.
David: Where was the social conscience of Methodism located in that period? We’re talking
about the �70s here. Ian: Somewhat familiar to today; questions
of inequality, questions about where people had a place, questions around whether it was
appropriate for Christian people to be involved in those protest movements that were there.
Some clearly said, no that was not a proper activity to engage in. Others said, yes go
to it – we must challenge society and make it a better world.
Peter: I’m struck when I look at Methodist thought and Presbyterian thought of the role
of the National Council of Churches, and the Commission that was associated with it, that
did a lot of representations on issues of – I think a lot of it began with concern for
hungry, needy people in wider parts of the world. International aid became a great theme
of the churches through CORSO in the 1950s, and then into the �60s there that high level
of concern, both with the Vietnam War, and then increasingly with nuclear weapons and
with South Africa, and those themes become just stronger and stronger I think, in that
period. David: Culminating in particularly South Africa
and rugby; tell us about that, Peter. Peter: Yes, so in 1981 when Muldoon proposes
that he will not stop the tour proposed by the South African team selected on racial
lines, to exclude blacks, there’s very strong protests in which the churches entered a very
interesting alliance with the Halt Hall Racist Tour Group of Trevor Richards. At that point
I think deep divisions happened in most New Zealand households, and strikingly the Methodist
Church and the Presbyterian churches speak pretty strongly against the tour. Even the
Anglican Church which had prevaricated a bit in the earlier rugby tours was now more against
the tour. The Baptist Union I notice stood well clear of these debates, and wanted nothing
to do with the sort of controversy, but the North Shore, as elsewhere, they had a lot
of protest and a lot of feeling. David: My recollection is that I was just
finished the theological training at that time, but Anglican lecturers like Dr George
Armstrong, and Methodist lecturers like Dr Jim Stuart were amongst the vanguard of protesters
that broke onto the field in the Waikato game. Peter: Yes – rugby field in Hamilton.
David: Yeah, and then four weeks after, lived in kind of terror that they might be picked
up. Peter: Oh well, yes that was a tremendous
controversy in the time; the prominent role played by the St John’s and Trinity students
at Rugby Park was very striking, but as then the tour went around the country, there were
a lot of debates in churches about how far a protester could go. That became the issue;
the Government brought in the Red Squad, but in Palmerston North, I remember a great deal
of nervousness and debate that went on about to march or not to march, because it seemed
like it was heading [22:10]. David: Yes, and you were in Palmerston North
at that stage. Peter: Yeah, that’s right, and I marched,
but I know others who stayed behind and prayed, because they felt churches should not be involved
in violence. David: It was controversial. Even I was in
the rural Manawatu at that stage, and the churches, such as the little churches at Ashhurst,
Bunnythorpe, Pohangina, Marton; they just appeared to be absolutely split down the middle,
either pro the protests, or vehemently pro rugby.
Peter: Yeah, I think that’s very much the case.
David: At the same time, a very bright light emerged in Methodism. It came from the far-flung
regions of the Brethren-Baptists. It was called Peter Lineham who a little bit after the tour
wrote a number of very insightful papers on the nature of Methodism and how it had been
performing as a teacher – something that many Methodists at the time, and subsequently vastly
appreciated. Peter, what on earthy interested you at that stage in Methodism?
Peter: Well, I’d did my PhD in England in 1975 to ’78, and I’d been struck by a new
wave of interpretation really influenced by Edward Thompson, the Marxist historian with
a Methodist background. His father had been a Methodist missionary in India, closely linked
with Ghandi. He had given a very sharp class interpretation, and even a socio-sexual interpretation
of Methodism, as a kind of way to control and to sublimate the revolutionary tendency
of the working close, and turn it into religiosity instead. So, I had really wanted to my PhD
in England on English Methodism but I’d been dissuaded and sent in another direction, but
I was really interested when I discovered that another direction turned out in the 18th
Century, Methodism was everywhere when you looked at working class movements, in one
way of another – not necessarily the form that was shaped by Wesley, but other varieties
and kinds. So, I came back to New Zealand and in my very
early years as a lecturer, started digging around into New Zealand’s religious history;
a field which had been really large and completely begun by Ian Breward at Knox in Dunedin. I
thought Methodism has got to be interesting, because those same tremendous tendencies of
reaching the poor and the working class are probably reflected in New Zealand. I was intrigued
to discover this enormous wave of Methodism, and rampant growth of Methodism from six per
cent to 11 per cent of the population in New Zealand in the late 19th Century, in the early
pioneering phase was a great wave of revivalist, evangelistic and social concern. Then there’s
a change that takes place as Methodism gets caught up in the struggles of the working
class and the poor, in the 1920s, and there’s an increasing alienation from the poor, as
Methodism sort of tries to distinguish itself from the [25:50].
So, in 1982 I did my first paper on the ways in which Methodism took a wave and tried to
turn it into a technique of evangelism, and found that what appears to work as a wave
in one period doesn’t necessarily work as a technique in subsequent generations, and
the Church has to kind of reinvent itself. It struck me that Methodism has always since
then needed to kind of reinvent itself and in some ways what’s happened is that the evangelistic
fervour of Methodism has been redirected and reshaped into social concern, and deep concern
about society, as a kind of characteristic of the movement.
David: Ian, given Peter’s analysis, would you say that is how the new wave of the bicultural
church came into being after the Springbok protests; that this was somehow – we had to
acknowledge our past and we had to reinvent ourselves? I guess the nation is becoming
more and more bi-culturally aware in the �80s, but the Church; what’s your opinion?
Ian: I hadn’t thought – I hadn’t made the connection between Springbok protests and
the bicultural journey, but clearly the discussion around the bicultural journey awakened understandings
that Methodist folk of my age had sort of bubbling away under there, but didn’t quite
know how to express it. It was the bicultural journey and all the investigation into what
that meant, particularly for Pakeha, that brought quite a number of things out.
Peter: I think the word bicultural was really not used until the later 1980s, but I was
struck by Methodism’s concern with justice for the blacks in South Africa, and then they
turn that back onto a spotlight in how are M�ori being treated in New Zealand. I mean,
I think that was a growing awareness where the spotlight on South Africa then draws the
spotlight – and you can watch it switch from South Africa across to New Zealand, and leading
to extreme discomfort. You will remember Bastian Point. I was watching that from Britain, doing
my PhD. I’m a good South Island boy with very little knowledge of Maori people together,
and then the reports start appearing in The Guardian about the occupation of Bastian Point
and then I vividly remember the police eviction of the protestors, and I could hardly believe
it. I didn’t understand the country that I had come from.
David: I think we had correctly identified something wrong in the psyche of how South
Africa had developed as a nation, but often it’s identifying the other; we don’t identify
quite so well in ourselves, and that’s why the spotlight suddenly switched, and we became
aware of all kinds of inherent racism that had gone on from the time of Pakeha settlement.
It leads, in my opinion, Peter to the idea that we began to have a series of social issues.
They’d always been there in the past. There’d been the demon drink, for example. There’d
been the questions of poverty around the City Missions, during the Great Depression. There’d
been the anti-war movements, as the pace heightened towards the outbreak of the Second World War.
So, the Ormond Burton were put in jail; a decorated military cross-holder jailed for
pacifism, but by the… Peter: Well, actually not jailed for pacifism;
jailed for subversive activity through holding protests in Pigeon Park in Wellington – to
be fair. David: Yes, but the magistrate was determined
to get him. Peter: That is very striking, and the Church
was determined to get him, too. You know? I mean, the striking thing that in the 1940s,
the Methodist Church which had – I mean, it wasn’t the current social-concerned Methodism
– has to be dated back to the growth of the pacifist movement in the Bible classes just
before World War II, and that became a basis, but it was never a very comfortable basis,
and it wasn’t received with acclamation by ordinary Methodists during World War II.
David: No, far from it. I think it took well after Ormond Burton’s death before the apology
came from the Church, that he’d been very unjustly treated. Lonely profits like that
emerge, and in the late �80s, early �90s we start to see new expressions of concerns
about what is the real role of women in our church? Sure we ordained Reverent Dr Dame
Phyllis Guthardt back in 1954/55 I think, but the feminist perspective drove a new understanding,
and then the issues of gay rights, so that by the 1990s there are a whole lot of different
– the spotlight is no longer falling on one issue; it’s falling on multiple issues.
Peter: Yeah, in fact on Wednesday night I was speaking at Mornington Methodist Church
in their open education program, and people told me that – well, it reminded me of the
story of the way the Dunedin Methodist Parish had played a very significant role through
Reverend David Bromell, and the difficulties of him being registered as a Minister, and
given a permanent position – those striking struggles. I do wonder whether by the 1980s
and especially the 1990s, the resources of a relatively small church that was not holding
its young people particularly well, and with large numbers of Tongans coming in by the
1980s, it was just – the sundry social issues became really quite difficult to manage. So
the denomination struggled to have a forward direction. I think that’s true of quite a
lot of mainstream Protestantism in the �80s and �90s. It just was almost overwhelmed
by one issue after another; issues in wider society, but they just hit the churches so
hard. David: Was that true by and large on the North
Shore? Peter: There was some very hot debates in
some of the churches on the North Shore. Some were significant centres of liberal opinion;
Takapuna – more prominent though was probably the Anglican church in Northcote, and the
Presbyterian church in Northcote which became, through their ministers, fairly notorious
centres of liberal opinion, and then other churches were more conservative. I’m not sure
– up the East Coast there was a variety of perspectives; the further North you went,
the more conservative it became, I think roughly, in those days.
David: We were also witnessing the quite phenomenal growth of some of the Pentecostal churches
in the �80s/’90s. Peter: That’s the really significant change
that happened; that beginning with the little North Shore New Life Church that was planted
I think in the 1950s, and then in the 1960s, the Assemblies of God plant their Takapuna
congregation, which in 1980 approximately, built the huge church which is now so much
part of the landscape of Takapuna, looking out over Shoal Bay. So that very large congregation
– and looking across to the even bigger congregation that met in the Auckland Town Hall, and subsequently
on the side of the gasworks in Auckland, showed that very new types of Christianity had emerged.
David: Both huge centres; one on each side of the Harbour Bridge. Interestingly, the
one on the North Shore; the engineer I think for that building was a chap by the name of
Tony Gibson who belonged to the little congregation at All Hallows, and he was particularly pleased
with the engineering outcome of that church, because it was the largest wooden-beamed building
in New Zealand at the time. Peter: What a magnificent story, because it
really is a sensationally large auditorium with a wonderful atmosphere that’s I know
hired out for big public occasions, because it’s so suitable, and so beautiful really,
with such a lovely perspective, but it’s a reminder that this was far and away the biggest
church on the North Shore, and probably at that stage, the largest public building on
the North Shore, which mostly the North Shore had looked at that stage to Auckland. It’s
still a very striking building, and of course now this is only one of a whole series of
very large Pentecostal or conservative Christian churches, especially – the largest would be
City Impact Church at Northcross, but there are others in various places, whereas more
and more of the small suburban Methodist and Presbyterian and Anglican congregations are
struggling to survive or have not survived. David: Yeah they were built as neighbourhood
churches in a day before cars were wide-spread; people would be wanting to walk to…
Peter: They weren’t really before cars had emerged, because people were driving across
the Harbour Bridge… David: Oh, I was thinking just before the
Harbour Bridge, but… Peter: The strategy was of Sunday School halls,
you see; these are as much Sunday School places as anything. Today, you look at most so-called
mainstream churches – they’re not mainstream at all; the children are just not there. You
know? They’re mostly older folk; such a change. David: It’s a huge change. You would have
seen that, Ian when you moved away from – I think you were the Principal at Reporoa College?
Ian: Yes. David: You became the principal at Wesley
College, which is located in South Auckland, and there are massive changes happening, too
in South Auckland during the �90s, early 2000s.
Ian: Those are areas, particularly within the non English-speaking churches, where young
people are still retained, and are very much part of the congregation. A little aside in
my thinking as I was driving is that one of the things which Methodist churches that I
was involved in didn’t do well was to encourage people to participate. The minister, the choir
and the chair master were the church; other people weren’t encouraged to participate.
That is not true of the non English-speaking congregations in South Auckland now, where
their children are very much involved in worship events.
Peter: I was struck that if you look at all those new very sparkling little Presbyterian
and Methodist congregations that were built along the bay-side and such places; they kind
of assume a minister, usually robed increasingly, a very clear sanctuary area, ideally a robed
choir – a very formal kind of worship, at the very time when the popular music you’re
talking about has just got no use for this at all. You know? It just does not connect.
So it seems to me the churches went into a phase of formality as youth moved into an
age of real informality in a completely different style, and there was like a total cultural
juxtaposition between the old and the new. David: In fact, Peter you drew a really interesting
comparison I think with how Methodism generally was getting on in New Zealand compared to
how it was getting in within a about a one square mile perimeter in South Auckland; would
you like to tell us about that? Peter: Yes, well it’s tremendously interesting
if you look in the Flatbush area – this is a picture that I drew around the year 2000
when the sudden expansion of a mixture of migrants who’d come to New Zealand; you can
see the little church that Gideon Smales had built, and the little [40:46] was a joint
venture congregation, and on that single road in Flatbush that runs down to Otara, where
you can see a whole world of new New Zealand spread out around you, and then rapidly huge
Taiwanese-financed Buddhist temple and monastery is built – a new Catholic school is built
– at one end or the other there’s two new style Baptist kind of congregations, and then
the greatest worship centre of all – the shopping centre – the most extraordinarily exotic shopping
centre that’s built to resemble a sort of pretend town at the other end, and the little
church remains just unable, or failing somehow to connect with that new community.
Yet, at the other end, as you say, if you go into Otara, these huge Island congregations,
and I think – is it Otara or is it Mangere, where I think one single Sunday School for
young children had more Sunday School children in that single Methodist Sunday School than
all the white Sunday School children in the whole of Methodism for the rest of the country.
David: It’s an extraordinary picture, isn’t it? It illustrates the huge changes that have
taken place. For the Methodist churches that remain throughout New Zealand, but particularly
those on the Shore, it is now a struggle, because in the first decade of the 21st Century
we saw Methodism split, and there was a component that either weren’t happy with the acceptance
of gay ministry or they weren’t happy with the way in which the administration dealt
with that, and they formed the Wesleyan Church of New Zealand. Now, we won’t go into the
ins and the outs of the split, but without a doubt that seriously weakened the Church
that remained. It weakened it in two ways; it took a significant
number of resourceful people out of the remaining connection, and it also had a psychological
impact as to, those of us who remained, what are we doing, and we began to look far more
seriously at how small we had become. Not a problem that affected the growing multi-culture
of the church. So you have Methodism in the first decade of this century, seriously no
longer sure of what it’s on about – wanting to stick up for all that it’s gained in gay
rights, feminist insights, action in terms of poverty – all those things that we’ve talked
about. Yes, that’s our heritage – that’s what we’re running with, but we don’t have people.
Peter: Yes, but to be fair, David – and I saw this two nights ago in Dunedin, but I
think this is also true in various parts of the Shore as well; good Methodist congregations
are now much more people’s complications, where the people do things, and where there’s
a strong sense of we own this concern – we are very engaged in these issues. So, in the
Mornington Methodist hub, I was so interested to hear of the work that they’ve done in multiculturalism,
in the new music that they sponsor, in the symbolic links that they build with Buddhists
and an extraordinary range of people. So, some of these may be small churches, but they’re
actually now – they’re a different sort of church; they’re a gathered church where people
gather to an ethos, and I suspect that more and more Christianity is going to be not shaped
by denominations but shaped by an ethos that people will travel to, to be part of.
David: Keep drawing on that, both of you, because I think that is the key insight [as
to wither 45:34] we go. Peter: It does mean that you may not need
so many churches, and I think one of the really big struggles for a denomination that’s had
many churches, is there will be little signs of life in a great variety of congregations,
but probably the sustaining of that many buildings is just too hard, and it would be wiser for
congregations to choose to come together, and maybe the Methodist – the old tradition
of the circuit does enable gradually congregations to learn to become part of one congregation
– that sort of rearrangements, because there just aren’t ministers around, and increasingly
ministers are mostly drawn from the Pacifica parts of the church, and I think that – well,
there’s a whole interesting series about styles, but as congregational members take up initiatives,
I think that’s how Christianity will be re-shaped. David: If we go back to the original building
of these Methodist churches, in the 1940s/50s, the Takapuna circuit purchased 12 different
sections throughout the East Coast Bays. Peter: Could have a very expansive view of
what it was going to do. David: Yeah, and so eventually it built Taharoto
Road, All Hallows Campbell’s Bay, Rothesay Bay and Waiake. There were massive fights
internally as to which – and the only one that has survived as a church from the original
Takapuna program is Waiake. Of all of the sites chosen, Waiake is the least visible.
It has zero road presence. It was the most compromised site because there were 30 or
40 worshippers – 30 worshippers at the Torbay Hall, and 15 at Browns Bay, and never the
twain shall meet. They built in the middle on the least favoured site. Now, some of us
have pondered that; how come the least favoured site is the one that remains?
Peter: There’s a whole series of complicated reason to do with Methodism believing in Church
union, at a point when actually you should have got smart and seen that the Anglicans
had deserted it, because the notion of a union parish of the North bays and the Southern
bays, actually left Methodism building for a future united church, and it filled in the
gaps. So the issue was, yeah the Presbyterians got Brown’s Bay, the Anglicans just were slightly
North of that, the Methodists got Waiake. So the idea was that there would be too many
churches – this was in the report that was done in the 1970s – and unfortunately what
this meant was that Methodism, as the weakest of the three parties negotiating, drew the
short straw. David: My recollection is that a magnificent
multi-church centre was planned for when they bought the Brown’s Bay Recreation Centre,
and the negotiating partners wouldn’t buy into that.
Peter: That’s right. Yeah and of course what they built was not very satisfactory for the
needs of today. In fact, if you look at the – and some marvellous examples in Christchurch
of the re-building of Methodist churches show that it’s as much the gathering area as the
centre of worship that’s really critical; you can’t have as much set apart sacred space
– there’s got to be an interplay between community space, and facilities, and the complete transformation
of the old thing of going to church and then going home for Sunday lunch is now replaced
by the enormous importance of morning tea and the community space. So there’s a whole
series of things like that, and Waiake is not well set-up for those needs.
David: Oh, you better come and have a look, Peter.
Peter: Has it been re-built? David: Yes. I’d like to draw this to a close
by asking you both a question, less about religion and more about the understanding
of history. Well, I should really phrase that as the significance of history; how important
is it for congregations to really understand their own history?
Peter: Well, I think if you understand who you are, where you’ve come from, you’re less
overwhelmed by the problems of the present. I do meet some people who are so despondent
in the present day and age, and say, this is just hopeless – where are we getting – all
the statistics say that we’re going down and down. Sometimes churches get me into do a
talk like this, which seems like it’s sort of part of the act of giving in, but I think
so much that I can see – in tough times, creative things happen, and I think we’re going through
exactly that sort of period at the moment, where there’s some wonderful experiments and
renewal going on. I might say that for example, Methodism has contributed a great deal in
new hymnology for example; a beautiful sense of the presence of God touching the lives
of people in contemporary New Zealand, which to me suggests whenever there’s new songs,
there’s new life. David: The marvellous influence of Colin Gibson
there as a world leader. Peter: Indeed, yes.
David: Ian? Ian: Well, in response to your question; by
nature I am a traditionalist, so I like the tradition that Methodism brings to my understanding
of the faith, and I have seen both at Waiake and at Remuera, my appointment before, that
forms a very strong foundation for a people growing together. They’re both churches where
people drive in, because they appreciate what is there, as opposed to just taking part in
a more local congregation. David: I’d like to say thank you both very
much indeed, and I look forward to being able to interview you both on other aspects of
fascinating history sometime in the future. Peter: That would be great.
Ian: Thank you. A Simple Offering 60 Years kiwiconnexion practical